More political chicanery

Last week I posted about accusations of political dirty tricks being released in a book in New Zealand at the same time that an election was just getting under way. One of the problems last week was that these arguments were overshadowing announcements of policy and all campaigns were in danger of stalling. Well, two days later, it almost looked as if the campaigns were going to implode.

New material emerged, in which the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, was accused of conspiring with right wing bloggers to undermine the Head of the Serious Fraud Office, the reason for this being to undermine an investigation regarding fraud following the collapse of a major finance company during the 2009 financial meltdown. The purpose of the bloggers was allegedly to subvert the investigation and thus save one of the Directors of the failed finance company Hanover Finance from being prosecuted. Whether the bloggers really achieved anything is unclear, and in the end no criminal proceedings were undertaken, although apparently a major civil court case is being prepared. No criminal proceedings may, of course, mean that no crime was committed, or alternatively there was insufficient evidence to believe such a prosecution would be successful. New Zealand is probably not the only country where there seems to be difficulty in dealing with fraud that may or may not have occurred during the financial collapse. In many cases, financiers sailed very close to the wind, and may have been saved because technically the law was being followed, at least on one interpretation of it. Faulty law is also a problem in many countries because one suspects that lobbying by corporate lawyers manage to get the laws in a form that gives them plenty of latitude. Anyway, Collins denied any part in this program of undermining the SFO and the efforts to prosecute this particular person, but had to resign while this is being investigated, and so the Prime Minister has had to set up a Commission of Enquiry, presumably to be headed up by a retired Judge (yet to be announced) right in the middle of election campaigning. My guess is, he is furious. Now the criticism is that the terms of the enquiry are too specific, and not enough attention is being given to the wider problem, assuming there is one.

However, that is far from the end of it all, because it now turns out that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is initiating an enquiry into the possibility that SIS reports were specifically declassified for political purposes and the information handed over to such right wing bloggers, in one case to specifically undermine the election campaign of the Leader of the Opposition. Just what we need in an election campaign! This enquiry may be different, because it has not been initiated by a politician who may or may not have something to protect. Nevertheless, so bad was the situation that on a TV program where the two most likely to be Ministers of Finance following the election were supposed to be debating economic policy, one of them, in frustration, finally came out with, “We are half way through the allotted time, and when are we going to discuss finance?”

As one might expect, when politicians suspect that they might lose, they get desperate. Power is addictive. In this case, two weeks ago, the government was playing on fiscal responsibility. There would be no tax cuts, the Finance Minister said, because there was no room, and the government was pledging to have a small surplus to start paying back debt incurred since 2009. Now, suddenly, they have announced the possibility of tax cuts. What has changed? Well, economic forecasts suggest a loss to the economy equivalent to $1250 for every man woman and child, although that loss will actually be incurred in the food export industry, particularly dairying. Why? Because when Russia banned certain food imports, that food has to be sold on the open market, thus knocking back the price our farmers receive. So, with a significant cut in tax revenue (because the top of the income stream, i.e. the profits, is the taxed part) and no room before, now suddenly, oops, we have to try and buy this election. Now, there is “democracy” in action.

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